SATURDAY POLSCOPE STORY

By Eddy Odivwri; eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com   08053069356

Within the first 10 days of this New Year, about 80 persons have been killed in Benue State while Taraba State has also lost 55 lives.

It is a bloody way of starting the year when you add the twenty persons also killed by mindless cultists in Omoku, Rivers State on the eve of the New Year.

It is consoling that the killer dragons in Rivers have themselves been hacked down.

But the ravaging killer squad called Fulani Herdsmen are yet roaming menacingly from different zones of the country, unchecked.

The closest to a slap on the wrist was the recent arrest and arraignment of six soulless Fulani men. They have been detained in prison custody, to be fed with our collective resources till when next their case comes up next month.

Many even believe the so-called arrest and arraignment is just to fulfil all righteousness, as the case is not likely to go anywhere.

Those who believe this narrative cite the fact that in February 2016, despite the over 500 people killed by the same marauders in Agatu community, Benue State, not a single herdsman was arrested, let alone tried or convicted.

They also cite the recent arrest of nine Livestock Guards in Arufu, Benue community, near Takum, in Taraba State, by soldiers of the 93 Battalion, for bearing arms. The Livestock Guards are the taskforce members employed by the Benue State government to ensure the enforcement of the anti-open grazing law which came into effect last November 1.

The question is: why are the Nigerian soldiers so efficient in arresting arms-bearing Livestock Guards, whereas, the marauding roving killers armed with even more sophisticated weapons – the Fulani herdsmen, are never arrested or contained? Where were these soldiers when the herdsmen launched another attack on Benue State leading to the loss of eleven more lives after the first attack, and yet another attack and killing of 55 persons in Taraba State? It is remarkable that the second attack in Benue came a day after the police had staged an air patrol of the area, selling the impression that the situation was now under their control. But alas, the herdsmen came again and killed eleven persons.

Gov Sam Ortom had cried out that the federal government ignored their SOS calls.

Is what is good for the goose not good for the gander?

As if that was not bad enough, the Inspector General of Police visits the mourning communities and declares that the attack was a communal clash. Although he has apologized, that slip betrays how the security establishment perceives the pogrom.

Those who believe that the near indifference of the security apparatchik in the country to the herdsmen’s menace is because the entire security architecture of the country is right now, in the hands of the same Hausa/Fulani elite.  They cite the DG of SSS as Fulani man; the Minister of Defence, as Fulani man; the Attorney General and Minister of Justice as a Fulani man, the National Security Adviser as a Fulani man; the IG of Police as Hausa/Fulani man; Chief of Army Staff is a Fulani man; same with Chief of Air Staff; and ditto Minister of Interior, along with the Comptroller General of Customs, and above all, the Commander-in-Chief himself is a core Fulani man. Yes, we are not unaware of this curious skew of the security architecture of the country.

  But must  it be so provocatively flaunted and robbed in?

Many have implied that the kids’ gloves with which the Fulani herdsmen have been treated all along is because of the fact that all they who should tame the menace are Fulani and may have inadvertently turned their eyes away as the herdsmen turn Nigeria into a vast killing field. I do not exactly believe this narrative, but the temptation is strong, I must confess.

In trying to counter the Fulani-sparing-Fulani argument, the spokesman of the President, Mr Femi Adesina reeled out some cold statistics seeking to prove that the menace of the Fulani herdsmen predates the Buhari administration.

In releasing the so-called “facts”, Adesina said between 2013 and 2015, a total of 756 people were killed by herdsmen, and without saying, it openly implies that less number of persons have been killed by the herdsmen under Buhari’s administration, and so Nigerians should lower their voice of protestation. The insensitivity of that callous comparison hits home knowing that it was the same day there was a solemn mass burial for the Benue 70-something victims. Looking at the scary line-up of coffins of victims, one’s heart almost drops, amidst tears.

What is more, need we remind Adesina that it is the failure of former President Goodluck Jonathan to rein in the many malaises of his administration (herdsmen killings inclusive), that cost him the presidential seat?

So if the jaded figures are computed properly, it will be clear that the Fulani herdsmen have been responsible for thousands of deaths in Nigeria, when it is not war! What has this government done to stem the tide of these wanton killings?

While I believe the C-in-C has not directly encouraged the killings, his hitherto negligence of the menace may have emboldened the herdsmen, who may have reasoned that “if the president be for us, who can be against us”?

It is remarkable he is giving the matching orders to the IG, to crack down on the herdsmen now, albeit belatedly, after so many throats have been slashed.

What amount of military operation can recover the lives of the 135 persons killed so far this year? Isn’t there wisdom in the English proverb that says a stitch in time saves nine?

Last month, a very senior member of the Buhari kitchen cabinet, a Fulani, had hinted at a classified briefing that the anti-grazing law of Benue State will be reviewed so as to discourage other states from copying it. What is not clear is whether the pogrom visited on the Benue people is a warning sign that they should not dare copy the Benue example, or do so at their own risk.

But wait a minute! Is the Benue State House of Assembly not constitutionally empowered to make its own laws for the order and good governance of the state? Wasn’t that what they did with anti-open grazing law? What is their offence? The land is theirs. The farms are theirs. They made a law to control those who have access to their heritage; and that becomes an offence for which the fine is hundreds of human lives? Gosh! What republic and age are we?

The minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh is from Benue State. Incidentally, he had been talking about this grazing stuff for some time. First they had talked about ranching, but now they are talking about Grazing Colonies; whatever that means.

It will boil down to occupying a vast piece of land for the purpose of breeding their cattle. Ranching is it! The Fulani herdsmen are doing business. They cannot force their business burden, practice and inconveniences on others with such venom. They are not the owners of the land where their cattle graze. They cannot force themselves on the people. If they need ranches, they have to peacefully and responsibly negotiate with the owners of the land. Nobody will give up his patrimony to some marauding Fulani herdsmen simply because they hide AK 47 rifles in their Danshiki. No way! The Benue farmers who grow yam the most in the country do not impose their yam farms on people.

Nigeria is not the only place where herdsmen breed cattle. It is not a career of life and death elsewhere. Nigeria cannot be different.

The silly killers cannot read this, but at least their elite supporters will.

Many years ago, there was an education policy targeted at educating the roving herdsmen. They called it Nomadic Education Policy. After the programme guzzled huge resources, the herdsmen are yet as rustic and bestial as they are showing.

Now the rest of Nigerians are at their mercy.

They refused to advance themselves in education. But have evidently advanced themselves in weaponry. Gone are the days that herdsmen had only short sticks with which they controlled erring cows. At best, they had bows and arrows with which they chased and attacked wild animals threatening their cows. Not anymore. Today, they are as sophisticated as anti-Boko Haram soldiers. Now, they mount heavy and sophisticated weapons atop their cows while stringing some around their bodies. They go about killing and raping women, the owners of the farms their cattle destroy. Yet they will not tolerate anyone complaining. What kind of oppression is that?

But is it not curious that Benue has specially been selected as a victim?

Didn’t Ekiti State under Governor Ayo Fayose pass a similar law two years ago? Did Fayose not warn herdsmen to steer clear of Ekiti State or they face the consequences? Didn’t the herdsmen flee Ekiti with their tails between their legs? Why have they chosen to dare Benue State with such flagrant impunity?

Gov Ortom had seemed to have carried every stakeholder in the state along in enacting the anti-grazing law. Representatives of the Miyeti Allah Cattle Breeders Association had participated in those pre-enactment meeting and assured they were in sync with the law. It has proven that it was all deceit.

The anti-grazing law had been thorough. The law defined what grazing as shepherding cows across grass, shrubs, herbage, farm crops, etc, in open fields without any form of restriction”.

The essence of the law is “to prevent the destruction of crop farms, community ponds, settlements and property by open rearing and grazing of livestock

“Prevent clashes between nomadic livestock herders and crop farmers. Protect the environment from degradation and pollution caused by open rearing and over-grazing of livestock.

I had wondered how Gov Ortom planned to ensure that the law was strictly observed, until I read of Livestock Guards. My next worry was the force of arms available to the Livestock Guards. The task of ensuring that the law was obeyed by all and sundry was vested on Livestock Department of the Ministry of Agriculture. So, with what were they supposed to enforce the law?

Were the Livestock Guards going to confront the AK-47-wielding herdsmen with bare hands or catapults?

So it is not surprising that some of them had arms (AK-45), the offence for which they were arrested by the soldiers.

But perhaps in order to play safe, the state government denied that it armed the Livestock Guards. The statement denying the story stated that, “the Livestock Guards are not armed personnel. Their job is to ensure compliance with the regulation of ranches establishment and prohibition of open grazing of animals in the state,” he said.

“The Benue State government believes in the use of conventional security agencies to protect the people. Even in the face of renewed killing of innocent people by herdsmen in Logo and Guma local government areas, Governor Ortom did not let the people resort to self-help.”

That perhaps is the difference in strategy between Govs Ortom and Fayose. While the former is being gentle by forbidding “self-help”, the latter promptly assembled all the local hunters in Ekiti, each armed with their dame guns, charms and amulet and put them on red alert against the marauding herdsmen. And the two results are self-evident.

All said, President Buhari will need to do more to reassure the people of Benue and indeed other oppressed Nigerians that he truly belongs to them  as well. He must flash the Red Card now!